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Leading through a crisis; how to hold your head high 

- May 6, 2020 4 MIN READ

As the world goes into meltdown, government’s scramble to do what is best for communities and some show their true colours,  a crisis such as coronavirus clears space for leaders to be a voice of reason and calm, especially for those in small business who are facing catastrophic repercussions to their economy, writes Annette Densham.

It’s easy to succumb to the ‘sky is falling’ mentality rippling through the business community. With a recession looming, massive job losses and the very real threat of thousands of small business closing their doors, people need (want) to have something solid to grasp.

When we emerge post-COVID-19, a new normal will have to be established. The way we do business will change. The way we interact with each other will be different. The way we deal with a crisis will be reviewed. The way we led through tough times will be scrutinised. This is the time for the cream to rise to the top. You don’t have to be a politician or have done a leadership course to lead through this crisis.

Leadership is more than a certificate or degree or title. Leadership is a way of acting.

How can you, as an ordinary, everyday person in business, show leadership and help with recovery?

Kim Liddell, general manager of Street Science, said as leaders it is our role to be present, calm and real.  “We must be transparent, so staff know what projections look like and it is time to also think outside the box.  Unprecedented times will force our hand to be more innovative than ever before to continue to reach our customers,” she said

“Customers are looking for innovative and strong leaders right now, so let’s provide that for them.”

One strong message from leaders that’s emerging is the call for self-care. Fiona Kesby, CEO of Go-VA, believes this is the time to be alert but not alarmed. “It’s time to get back to the basics of good hygiene, wash hands, sleep, eat well and keep up social distancing only heading out for what is a necessity and avoid crowds. As a leader, you must take care of yourself so you can take care of your team,” she said.

“In a time of crisis, leadership is under the spotlight. Humans respond with either fear or love. I chose and ask myself am I responding with love with everything I do?”.

Small Business Expo CEO Paula Brand said the most important thing for a leader to do is be strong and firm. “No one likes a shaky leader,” she said.

“It is also time to communicate often with your members/community/tribe. It’s not time to pass on misinformation and half-truths. Being truthful and positive, and looking beyond the disaster, and assisting with plans for recovery will position you as someone to follow.”

Struggle is an integral aspect of business – there is always something going right and wrong during the business journey and Trevor Glass, a business psychology specialist, said a leader who understands the struggle, especially now, will find they can build a rock solid following moving forward.

“Leaders get the difference between the struggle and goals. People are looking for someone who has a compelling vision to help them overcome the struggle. In the face of current adversities and fear, a person who can show others how to struggle well and can define what about this situation is worth struggling for will lead the way,” he said.

“We live in a time where people are embracing one of Maslow’s highest needs – self actualisation. A leader who taps into this most basic need can move and empower the followers to become the best version of themselves even when things are in a state of chaos.”

With all that is going on, it is easy to slip up and damage your personal and professional brand. Getting pulled along by the crowd or getting caught up in the hype is not leadership.

Lauren Clemett, international award-winning personal branding specialist, said leaders do not get pulled along. “A leader considers all the facts, speaks from the heart and is the calm voice in the panic,” she said.

“It’s your responsibility as a leader in your space to be rational and relevant, and if you don’t have anything to add to the ‘experts’ opinions and instructions, it’s ok to say nothing.”

Lauren counsels businesses to take the time to consider the long-term ramifications to their personal brand. “How you stand up as a leader during a crisis will be remembered long after the crisis has passed. When you do speak as a leader, in public or via social media: avoid using I, me and mine and replace those with us and our, avoid making sweeping statements, instead focus on one useful, tangible piece of advice others can participate in and avoid jumping on the bandwagon or pandering, be honest, relevant and real,” she said.

When it comes to your personal brand and leadership, be prepared to stand up for what you strongly believe but don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.

A good leader considers what is happening and even though events are moving at a frenetic pace, with things changing day by day, there is always time to do research and get informed.

beinc.’s CEO Hayley Birtles-Eades said leaders are not the ones panicking.  “Don’t panic but do get urgent – make sure you and your business are covered and protected and if you’re not, figure out how to cover and protect yourself,” she said.

“Seek out opportunities and rise to the top, now is not the time to pull back, it’s the time to strip back and pick up the nuggets of gold that do work and run with that.”

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